How to Pre-Germinate Vegetable Seeds

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One of the most frustrating things about starting vegetables from seed is when they just don’t seem to ever sprout.

You sow the seeds and wait for days and days for the little sprout to emerge, but… it never does.

You then scramble to sow more seeds because you have now lost a week and still don’t have any seedlings. You wait for days and days, yet again, no seedlings.

Self-doubt starts to creep in. Your confidence in what you are doing plummets. You begin asking yourself the dumbest questions:

“I did sow the seeds in there, right?”

“Did I sow them deep enough, shallow enough?”

“Am I keeping it too wet, or am I watering too much?”

“Do these seeds not like me?”

This has probably happened to a whole lot of vegetable gardeners at one time or another. There are many that give up on starting from seeds entirely and go to just purchasing transplants from the garden center.

The good news is there doesn’t have to be so much uncertainty when starting vegetables from seeds.

There is a very simple, but useful, task you can do to make sure your seeds are viable and to give them a head start down the road of germination, called pre-germinating, or pre-sprouting the seeds.

What is Pre-Germinating Vegetable Seeds?

What causes a seed to jump into germination mode is moisture and warmth. Once the seed comes into contact with moisture, and the temperature is right, it will swell and begin germinating.

With that said, you can begin the germination process before the seed ever hits the soil by keeping the seeds damp and warm.

As stated earlier there are a couple advantages of pre-germinating vegetables seeds, such as:

  1. Pre-Germinating is a great way to check seeds to make sure they are still viable and not duds. This is especially good to know if you have older seeds that you want to use for your vegetable garden. Some seeds are still viable after many years, but some may not germinate as well as others. With pre-germinating you can now pick out the ones that did sprout and not use the ones that didn’t.
  2. By pre-germinating your seeds you will know for sure it is a good seed before planting, which will eliminate the uncertainty of waiting for days or weeks to see if the seeds will sprout. If the seed begins germination you know there’s a pretty darn good chance it will sprout when sowed.

Pre-Germinating Vegetable Seeds

Let’s say you have some cucumber seeds that you plan to plant in your vegetable garden, but you’ve had them for seven or eight years.

You are uncertain if they will still germinate, or wonder if all the seeds you sow are viable. Pre-germinate them to find out the answers.

Here’s how to do that:

You want to pre-germinate some Lemon Cucumbers you have had stored for several years. The first thing to do is dampen a paper towel. You can wet it with tap water then squeeze out the excess water. You want the paper towel damp, but not dripping wet.

Lay the damp paper towel on a flat surface and spread it out as best you can.

Lay Damp Paper Towel on a Counter or Table

Next, place the seeds you want to pre-germinate in the middle of the paper towel. You can spread them out a bit if you like so the seeds aren’t on top of each other, but it really makes no difference as far as germination goes.

Place the Seeds In the Center of the Paper Towel

With the seeds placed in the center of the paper towel, take the left or right one-third of the paper towel and fold it over the seeds. Then take the opposite one-third and fold it over the seeds.

Fold the Left and Right One-Thirds of the Paper Towel Over the Seeds

With both ends folded over take the palm of your hand and gently pat the paper towel until it comes in good contact with the seeds. This is important to make sure your seeds stay in contact with the moisture that’s needed for germination.

Now fold over the top and bottom one-thirds of the paper towel.

Fold Over the Top and Bottom One-Thirds of the Paper Towel

Again, gently pat the paper towels with the palm of your hand so the seeds and damp paper towel make good contact. You should have a seed satchel that looks something like this.

The Finished Seed Germinating Satchel

One last step for preparing your seeds for pre-germination. Place the completed seed germinating satchel (well, that’s what I call it) into a zipper lock style sandwich baggie. Do not seal the baggie up. You want the seeds to be able to breathe and have some air circulation.

Place the Seed Germinating Satchel in a Zipper Lock Sandwich Bag

Place it in a warm place (around 70°F to 75°F) and let the seeds rest in the damp paper towel for a couple days. Check the seeds after a couple days to see if you spot any that appear to be swelling or changing in size.

After three or four days (depending on what type of seed you are germinating) you should begin to see very tiny shoots appear from the seeds. This means the seed has begun germinating and is a viable seed. Once they get about 1/8-inch long or so, they are ready to sow!

The Tiny Shoots That Appear Coming From the Seed Means They Are Ready to Sow

Pre-Germinating Vegetable Seeds Is Easy Peasy

It’s a pretty easy way to check old seeds and get a bit of a jump when sowing seeds. This can also be done with brand new seeds if you want to. You can pre-germinate almost any vegetable seed and works well with cucumbers, squash, beans, peas, okra, and even tomatoes.

The next time you encounter some stubborn seeds try pre-germinating them first.

I Recommend These Awesome Cucumbers!

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Comments

  1. Great post. That self doubt sounds like me.
    Once the seeds gave sprouted is there a correct way to sow the seeds–sprout up or down?
    Also do you still need to sow the seeds at the depth specified on the packet or is this not necessary if they have already germinated?

  2. Hi, thank you for this article! I was doing exactly same thing with my “difficult” seeds, but instead of the plastic bag I just kept them on a little ceramic plate. It had worked well so far, but the I like the idea with the bag better. I’m ready to try that with my lettuce seeds that are reluctant to germinate.

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